The three things you should see in Almaty all lie on a straight line, which makes sightseeing quite easy.
1. Zenkov Cathedral, also known as Ascension Cathedral, is the second tallest wooden structure in the world. An Orthodox church built between 1904 and 1907, it was one of the only buildings in Almaty which survived two disasters: the 1911 earthquake and the later Sovietization of the country. (These two factors explained what was for me the puzzling lack of other interesting historical buildings in the city. Thank you wikipedia for enlightening me where guidebooks failed.) Interestingly enough, for most of its history it hasn’t served as a place of worship – soon after the Russian Revolution, it was used for various ‘public’ (read: secular Soviet) purposes, including housing what was doubtless a fascinating museum – the Central State Museum of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic). Worship only resumed in 1997 after restoration to the Russian Orthodox Church. In a country which survived so many years of the Soviet regime, and where the majority religion is Islam (less than 25% of the population are Christian), I really wondered how many people actual do worship there. On a cloudy Saturday afternoon, we did see a fair number of short elderly ladies with babushka scarves tied around their wrinkled faces worshiping before the beautiful, colorful icons inside.
Panfilov Park, which houses the park, is a strange place. After visiting the superb Cathedral, you can take a ride in these equally colorful carriages:
Or go take some wedding photos by the very ugly Monument to the 28 Guardsmen. After all, there is nothing more attractive on your wedding day then to photograph yourself with this as your background:
This is not only the main destination for wedding parties, but the main monument to Soviet bravery in the city – a statue of 28 guardsmen who allegedly died in heroic bravery defending Moscow from the Nazi onslaught and destroying 18 enemy tanks in 1941. Later revelations showed that at least 6 of them had not indeed died, and indeed it is doubtful whether this last stand even occurred, but these findings were kept very much secret in order not to besmirch the “Heroes of the Soviet Union”.
I mean, where would everybody take their wedding photos otherwise, if not by the Eternal Flame?
Having enjoyed the parade of Kazakh wedding fashions (I suppose I wasn’t stealthy enough – people started turning their backs on me):
We continued on our way to see the Green Market (Zelyony Bazaar).
2. The Green Market is at the top of the list on tripadvisor as the #1 of “shopping attractions in Almaty”. However, the list is only one position long.
‘Tis not a place for the squeamish, or vegetarians. Not just because of this outside the main entrance:
You can get anything you want at the Green Bazaar. But you will have the most luck if your desire is for some obscure part of a lamb gut, or perhaps you can be tempted by a fresh cow head? Are you craving a very, very … interesting… part of a horse? (yes, you are thinking what I am thinking, and yes, it was exactly that).
I’m not exactly a squeamish person, and decidedly not a vegetarian, but after a few minutes of passing by rows of skinned cows’ heads and getting slapped by a huge flab of horse meat (at least, I think it was horse meat; any one piece of meat that big could only have come from a horse, or a camel) carried in the workworn hands of a jollily oblivious lady, my nostrils and stomach combined to tell me that the cultural experience had overpowered them.
So, still followed by a scent from which there was no escaping, I wandered down aisles of brightly fresh produce, luscious cheeses, and all kinds of wool slippers and hats. I was ready to buy something touristy, but I didn’t know what, so my trip to the Green Bazaar ended with my shopping bag empty and my face very, very green.
(no photos, sorry – just couldn’t do it!)
3. The last point on our intercultural stroll was what we believed to be the Central Mosque of Almaty. We were expecting the 47-meter minaret and large building (capable of holding 7, 000 people) which had been newly constructed in 1999 and is one of the largest mosques in Kazakhstan. As mentioned before, over 70% of the population (especially in the South) identify themselves as Muslim, so it is a substantial community.
But I think we made a wrong turn somewhere, or else I am a colorblind idiot. The Central Almaty Mosque has supposedly blue domes and towers.
So where was I? I obviously have no idea.
Obviously, I need to go back to Almaty to figure out the mystery of the mosque which changes colors. Unless you can help me out?